It is pretty well-established that sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy and chronic insomnia, can lead to serious health problems, and that difficulty sleeping may be a red flag for a serious illness.
Now there is new evidence that otherwise healthy people, who do not get enough sleep or who shift their sleep schedules because of work or lifestyle, may be endangering their health too.
A good night’s sleep regulates mood and helps you cope with emotional challenges. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality, on the other hand, does more than just leave you grumpy and irritable.
It causes and/or is caused by depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders, reports a study in the Indian Journal of Sleep Medicine (IJSM) done by clinical psychologist Dr Monika Sharma and sleep expert Dr Manvir Bhatia from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Along with anxiety and depression, somatic complaints (headache, backache, stiff neck/shoulders and fatigue) occur in almost three in four (72%) insomniacs, found the IJSM study.
“Our study found more younger men had psychosomatic complaints than women. Insomnia was also more common in people who were middle-aged (over 35 years), were married, had somatic complaints or/and anxiety and depression,” said Sharma, consultant clinical psychologist at the hospital.
“It’s a dual relationship, with insomnia being an initial symptom of several mood disorders, just as insomnia can cause anxiety and depression,” says Dr Manvir Bhatia, senior consultant neurologist and chairman of the department of sleep medicine.
Apart from making you an emotional wreck, lack of sleep increases the risk of almost every known disease, from heart disease to the common cold.
Sleep deficit puts the body into a state of high alert, increasing the production of stress hormones and driving up blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
If you lose sleep that your body needs, then you produce these inflammatory markers that on a chronic basis can create low-grade inflammation and raise your chances of a heart attack.
Three in four people who seek treatment from insomnia have unsuccessfully been on sleeping pills for over six months to a year.
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“Sleeping pills are not just addictive but play havoc with short-term memory and recall,” says Bhatia.
The amount of necessary sleep varies, with some managing on just a few hours’ sleep and others barely functioning without eight to nine hours.
“Most guidelines say that increased risk for diseases creep in if you are getting less than five hours and more than eight hours of sleep every day,” says Dr Bhatia.
Acute insomnia affects all of us and the most effective way to counter is it by improving your sleeping habits. For a start, switch off all gadgets an hour before bedtime.
“Switch off the TV and don’t use smartphones, iPads and laptops at bedtime as the backlit screen suppresses melatonin, your sleep-wake hormone,” says Dr Bhatia.
Try to sleep and get up at the same time each day and avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee, colas and alcohol three to four hours before bedtime.
If despite this, your sleeplessness persists for more than four weeks or starts affecting your daily functioning — making you drowsy, irritable, moody, forgetful and fatigued — you may need to go to a sleep expert.